White House and DOE Announce Initiatives to Accelerate Transmission Line Development

The White House announced a national ambition to upgrade 100,000 miles of existing transmission lines and the U.S. Department of Energy announced initiatives to increase transmission build-out.

A crew using a cherry picker to work on overhead power lines in rural Ohio

Transmission is a vital aspect of the clean energy transition.


Dan Keck

It is becoming evident that ensuring the reliability of our electrical grid hinges on expanding it to accommodate increased wind and solar energy generation and enhance resilience against extreme weather events. Yet the construction of high-voltage transmission lines has notably slowed over the past decade, and the process for erecting new lines often stretches beyond 10 years due to permitting delays and opposition from local communities.

To address this, the White House and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today announced measures to accelerate transmission build-out. Altogether, these steps strengthen the tools at the government’s disposal to support this vital aspect of the clean energy transition and give a much-needed boost to a select group of projects with enormous reliability, clean energy, and cost-saving potential.

Propping up permitting

First, the DOE finalized the Coordinated Interagency Transmission Authorizations and Permits (CITAP) Program rule. This initiative aims to coordinate federal permitting for complex transmission projects, reducing the permitting timeline from an average of four years to a binding two-year requirement. Should agencies fail to meet this deadline, developers may appeal to the president, as outlined in a 2023 Memorandum of Understanding. Under CITAP, the DOE assumes the lead role in federal environmental reviews and approvals for high-voltage transmission projects (e.g., those above 230 kilovolts or kV). 

The CITAP rule also establishes a pre-application process for developers to prepare resource reports and hold meetings with involved agencies. Additionally, as part of this pre-application process, developers are required to create a community engagement plan to address community concerns. Because developers must engage with impacted communities and tribes prior to the submission of an application, this allows for community perspectives and concerns to be addressed at an early stage when changes to the project (like where the line will be sited) can still be made. Early and proactive community engagement improves projects. Unfortunately, the DOE did not adopt our recommendation that the rule allow for environmental and public interest groups to be involved in the pre-application process. 

Despite this, the rule overall expedites transmission development on federal lands while enhancing community outreach. However, it exclusively addresses transmission on federal lands, leaving development on private lands unaffected.

Spotlighted projects

Additionally, the DOE announced the selection of the Southwest Intertie Project-North (SWIP-N) to receive up to $331 million in funding under the DOE’s Transmission Facilitation Program (TFP). This program, part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, allocates $2.5 billion as a revolving loan fund to support transmission development. The TFP offers assistance by allowing the DOE to purchase up to 50 percent of a proposed line’s capacity for 40 years, with the DOE recouping costs by selling the capacity. SWIP-N is a 285-mile, 2,000 megawatt (MW) transmission line stretching from Twin Falls, Idaho, to Ely, Nevada. It will also upgrade a critical substation in Nevada, unlocking an additional 1,000 MW of capacity along the existing One Nevada Line, a significant transmission corridor in Southern Nevada. SWIP-N will enhance solar resource integration and provide an alternative power supply route during wildfires or system disruptions. The DOE’s contracting of up to 50 percent of the line’s capacity aims to alleviate financial barriers for the developer and facilitate construction.

The DOE is also in the process of finalizing contracts for two projects selected in the initial round of TFP funding last year: the Southline Transmission Project and the Cross-Tie Transmission Line. Southline is poised to supply clean energy to expanding markets in Arizona, which is presently reliant on fossil fuel generation. Leveraging existing transmission rights of way along portions of its path, Southline will upgrade aging transmission facilities that currently cause congestion and constraints in the region. Construction is anticipated to commence in early 2025. Similarly, the Cross-Tie 500 kV project is set to enhance access to renewable energy resources in the area, with construction also expected to commence in early 2025.

The proposed routes of three new transmission projects connecting clean energy zones across six states

Proposed routes for the Southwest Intertie Project-North (Idaho, Nevada), Cross-Tie Transmission Line (Nevada, Utah), and Southline Transmission Project (Arizona, New Mexico)

New pathways for new technologies

Further, the DOE is implementing a categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for projects utilizing existing transmission rights of way, including reconductoring initiatives, as well as for solar and storage projects situated on already developed lands. A categorical exclusion designates a class of actions deemed by the agency to have an insignificant impact on the environment, thus avoiding the need for an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement. While we enthusiastically support policies aimed at expeditiously building out transmission and clean infrastructure projects, the evidence is clear that NEPA reviews are not a significant source of delay. We urge the DOE to make sure that environmental and community protections remain at the forefront of this work.

Finally, the White House has unveiled a national ambition to upgrade 100,000 miles of existing transmission lines within the next five years by leveraging cutting-edge technologies like advanced conductors and dynamic line ratings to optimize the performance of our existing transmission infrastructure. This is important as it helps to maximize the efficiency of the current transmission network while simultaneously expanding the construction of new transmission lines to meet growing demand. 

Together, these announcements by the DOE and the White House represent a concerted effort to address the pressing challenges facing the nation’s electrical grid. By streamlining transmission development processes, supporting important transmission projects, and upgrading existing lines, these initiatives enhance the reliability of our electricity supply and support the transition to clean energy sources.

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